“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Breen in La Plata County, Colorado — The American Mountains (Southwest)

[Old] Fort Lewis College

Fort Lewis College Marker image. Click for full size.
September 26, 2009
1. Fort Lewis College Marker
Inscription. Originated on the site of a U.S. Cavalry post established in 1880 at Hesperus. From 1891 until 1956 the old fort was operated as an Indian school, a vocational high school and a junior college.

The first president of the college was Charles Dale Rea. It was chiefly through his aggressive leadership that the college was reconstructed here in 1956.

In 1962 it became a liberal arts college operating on a trimester program and offering work leading to the bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees.
Location. 37° 13.809′ N, 108° 3.061′ W. Marker is near Breen, Colorado, in La Plata County. Marker can be reached from State Highway 140 0.2 miles west of Colorado State Highway 140. Touch for map. Approximately three miles northeast of Breen, Colorado or 4.5 miles south of Hesperus on Colorado State Highway 140, watch for the sign saying "Fort Lewis". Turn in at the entrance sign saying "San Juan Basin Research Center". Bronze plaque is at the flagpole near the office. Marker is at or near this postal address: 18683 Highway 140, Hesperus CO 81326, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 6 other markers are within 10 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. The Old Spanish Trail (approx. 8 miles away); Dominguez - Escalante Expedition
Close-Up of Relief Art on Marker image. Click for full size.
September 6, 2008
2. Close-Up of Relief Art on Marker
Charles Dale Rea
President 1949 - 1962
(approx. 8 miles away); Dominguez and Escalante (approx. 8 miles away); Bradshaw Circle (approx. 9.6 miles away); The Newman Block (approx. 9.8 miles away); Jack Dempsey (approx. 9.9 miles away).
More about this marker. There are picnic tables and a grassy lawn. Some old buildings remain on the site, but most have been torn down. Wildlife such as beaver, deer, wild turkeys, and black bears are often seen along the drive to the site.
Regarding [Old] Fort Lewis College. Fort Lewis was a military fort from 1880-1891, named after Lt. Col. William H. Lewis, an Alabama-born West Pointer. Initially the fort was established in 1878 outside of Pagosa Springs to protect settlers against Indians. The Pagosa Springs site was soon deemed to be too far from the Utes, so in July 1880 a new site on the LaPlata river 14 miles southwest of Animas City & Durango, CO was selected. The first companies arrived in August and the sawmill began operating on September 18th, the same day Durango was founded. Buffalo soldiers (black troops from the 9th cavalry) were encamped in tents at Fort Lewis until the buildings were contructed.

In 1891, Fort Lewis was deactivated and turned over to the secretary of the interior for an Indian boarding school. In 1892 the school opened with 51 children enrolled. Tribes represented were Navajo, Ute, Sioux and Apache. The boarding school taught grades kindergarten through 6th grade. In addition to teaching the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, its mission was an industrial training school (agriculture, home economics, carpentry). The children were assimilated and trained to accept the culture of America. The use of Indian names and wearing of native attire were discouraged. Therefore students took names of notable American leaders (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, etc.). The old military hospital was converted to a girls dormitory.
Thomas Breen was named Superintendent in 1894. Dr. Breen ran the school much like a military post. The students dressed in uniforms and performed military drill and parade every Sunday.

In 1900-01, the Indian school reached its peak enrollment of 345 students. Two hundred acres were under cultivation and all but 15 of those were irrigated. Most of the buildings inherited from the military fort were in very poor condition and presented a huge fire danger because stoves and oil lamps were used for heat and light.

In 1910 Congress offered the property to the state of Colorado, provided the facility would be maintained as an institution of learning. Indian pupils were to be admitted free of charge for tuition and on terms of equality with white pupils. The focus of the school would change to a high school that would emphasize agricultural and mechanical arts and be placed under the control of the State Board of Agriculture and the State Agriculture College.

Fort Lewis was a vocational high school until 1927, when it was changed to a junior college, as a branch of Colorado State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now Colorado State University). From 1927 until 1933, Fort Lewis was both a high school and a two-year college. In 1933 the High School was closed, and the junior college, Fort Lewis A&M, continued on this site until 1956 when it was moved to Durango. It became a four-year college in 1962.

Today the "Old Fort" site operates as the San Juan Basin Research Center of Colorado State University, an agricultural experiment station and bull testing center.
Also see . . .
1. The "Old Fort" was a military post from 1880-1891. (Submitted on September 27, 2009.)
2. The "Old Fort" was an Indian boarding school from 1891-1911. (Submitted on September 27, 2009.)
3. The "Old Fort" was a high school from 1911-1933. (Submitted on September 27, 2009.)
4. The "Old Fort" was a 2-year College 1927-64. (Submitted on September 27, 2009.)
5. The "Old Fort" is now the San Juan Basin Research Center (SJBRC). (Submitted on September 27, 2009.)
6. Virtual Walking Tour. take a virtual walking tour to see the historical buildings. (Submitted on September 27, 2009.) 
Additional keywords. Buffalo Soldiers
Categories. EducationForts, CastlesMilitaryNative AmericansNotable Places
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on September 27, 2009. This page has been viewed 2,046 times since then and 56 times this year. Photos:   1. submitted on September 27, 2009.   2. submitted on September 29, 2009. • Syd Whittle was the editor who published this page.
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